A question on the necessity of the nitrogen cycle

Discussion in 'Filters and Filtration' started by ricmcc, Jul 4, 2015.

  1. ricmcc Well Known Member Member

    I realize that if this were the age of witch burning or other burning of non-orthodox views, people would be getting their marshmallows ready. And please do believe me that , for reasons that escape me, every person keeping fish should be fully conversant with the nitrogen cycle, even though as it is usually taught to budding aquarists, the part relevant to them is sufficient, not entire..
    However, I am now wondering why such things are so important; after being given the name of a product by Biker123, I believe, I did a 6 month test of Boyd's ChemiPure, a scavenger of nitrogenous waste as well as a test against Seachem's Purigen, which now claims to scavenge nitrate as well..
    Three tanks were involved, all 30g L, to to each were introduced 12 common platies, the 3rd tank having a sufficient bio-bed.
    To be brief, the tanks without a bio-bed did never test positive for any of the three nitrogenous wastes that we watch for for, while the bio-bed tank did show an expectable and reasonable amount of nitrate, removed by W/Cs.
    I should mention that all three tanks were vastly over filtered, and the ones' having only chemical filtration where well overstocked with media (ratio 3:1 over manufactures suggestion).
    Again, to be brief in this question, if one effectively removes all ammonia and nitrite (both mentioned products do say that they do this principally), where would nitrate come from?

    I am sure of the results that I got, but not so certain if there is something that I am overlooking, and would really like some help on this.
    As I see it now, if a beginner freaks out due to fish loss owing to an incomplete or absent cycling, perhaps we owe it to them to suggest alternatives.

    BTW, this is so obvious a method that I know that I have made an error; I just need it pointed out to me, thanks, rick

    Also, please to remember that I truly believe that anyone keeping fish does need to know that nitrogen cycle:)

  2. hampalong Well Known Member Member

    I'm not sure what the question is. Did the third tank have just the biobed or product too?

    If it had all three, then all three would have scavenged their share. some of the ammonia would have been got by bacteria, so there will have been nitrite, and some of that will have been got by bacteria too....?

  3. ricmcc Well Known Member Member

    Hi again. The sort of 'control' tank had only a bio bed, which is why I had to remove nitrate (W/Cs).
    This idea really is not that new, btw; submarines and manned space craft have been using 'scrubbers' for decades, simply to remove toxins, adding oxygen as needed, and obviously there should never be a shortage of oxygen in a properly designed tank.
    But believe me, this is a question, and I am hoping for a, 'Your wrong because of...'
    As an aside, the idea of ever be right scares me, as it will you after a sufficient number of married
    years:) Al the best to you, my friend, rick

  4. hampalong Well Known Member Member

    I still don't know what the question is. :)

  5. FishtailBraid Valued Member Member

    But how do you know the nitrogen cycle didn't start in those tanks, but as a fish-in cycle, but then the nitrate scrubbers took up the nitrate?

  6. ricmcc Well Known Member Member

    They were new tanks, but one, the established bio-bed tank&filter.
    The control tank, the one having a bio-bed, was well established, and sufficient to the fishes needs.
    I should have mentioned this, but in late breaking news:), all tanks were kept at the same temperature and lighting.
    I guess that the question, Hamp, is if this method that works, and if it does, why condemn so many fish to death in a cycle, which still seems to be a primary problem for many.
    This is why I wish to be corrected, as if a scrubbing agent can to the work of BB, but even better, all the advise that I have acted upon or passed on to others, is somewhat in doubt.
    Please though, do remember I am only asking, not stating. Best to all, rick
  7. ricmcc Well Known Member Member

    Excellent question, to which I can't offer any proof, but a theory.
    1) a nitrogen cycle likely did start in all tanks, but having no media to support it (other than in the control tank), it would not have met the needs of the fish.
    2)all tanks started at the same time, yet in no tank did fish show distress; therefore, in only the bio-bed tank was time a factor, it seems
    3)this is a guess, but I am thinking that a limited bio-bed will establish in all tanks, as BB are ubiquitous, and no fish tank is ever ammonia free at any given moment ( in minute amounts, of course)
    4)my wife taught me the word above when we were in university, after which I seem to see it everywhere. :) to all, rick
  8. hampalong Well Known Member Member

    Firstly I'm against fish-in cycling and always have been, and I've never helped anybody to do one. My only advice there is remove the fish...

    There have always been alternatives. 40 years ago Polyfilter was invented. It absorbs all but a trace of ammonia, this absorption gradually decreasing as the foam gets used up, meaning bacteria increase gradually and there's a slow seamless transition from Polyfilter to bacteria. It's an ideal instant cycle, but it only ever caught on as a water treatment and emergency product.

    These are new products you're using. They're the next 'normal', but in this hobby it takes years for things to change. After all, we'e still fish-in cycling, and many people still think it's a good thing to do. It takes a lot to change people's views. There will always be those that say 'no' without ever giving it a try.

    I still don't know what the question is, but does that help any? First I thought it was 'where did the nitrates come from?', now I think it's 'if these products work, why isn't everybody using them?'

  9. Et tu Valued Member Member

    As a side note, the bonus that one would be using less fresh water for water changes is worth looking into.In my part of the US, water is drying up, the drought is so great that the farmers that supply produce for most of the nation are under forced water constrictions.
  10. wisecrackerz Well Known Member Member

    As far as I understand it, your question is "why is the nitrogen cycle still the first thing we explain to new panicking fish keepers when there are chemical products that can alleviate their distress?"

    Several reasons for this. First of all, many new fish keepers, no matter how kindly and explicitly it is explained to them, simply do not believe that their brand new 10 gallon tank is over stocked, since all it contains are 9 goldfish and one common pleco (10 fish for 10 gallons, right?!). If they are offered a bandaid product, and their fish do ok for a little while, they will be even less likely to listen to good advice, and will get themselves into even more trouble in the long run. By bandaid product I mean a chemical that must be continually added to the aquarium as it is used up, but I'm a little bit of a purist; I believe even activated carbon is only for emergencies, and if you need it all the time, there's something wrong with your tank.

    Next reason is that if your bio load is too heavy for your tank, your tank is probably over stocked real estate-wise. If you have a chemical that's removing all your nitrates for you, how would you know you had a problem as a new fish keeper? You wouldn't, until aggression became a problem, and at that point, you really are down to the wire on solving the issue.

    We don't recommend these products for the same reason we don't recommend pH up/down products, or ammonia removal chemicals. They are for emergencies only, and it's a terrible habit for a new fish keeper to form to be completely reliant on a variety of chemical scrubbers to maintain an unstable chemically imbalanced aquarium. We don't start out new plant keepers with fertilizers and CO2 injectors, either. The products are available, and to the experienced and discerning aquarist, they're a valuable resource for special scenarios, which we have the background knowledge to identify. But to a new aquarist, these can easily become a crutch. It's much easier to go to the store and buy a thing than it is to read articles and educate yourself about the physical, chemical, and social needs of your new pets.

    That said, they sound like something I wish I had known about when I was trying to do some intense, motion restriction QTs on some seriously ill high-waste production fish :/ Would have been mighty useful.
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2015
  11. SnyperTodd Valued Member Member

    Rick, your verbiage is somewhat hard to understand, but I think you're asking if there's a problem with maintaining a tank with Chemi-Pure rather than relying on the nitrogen cycle. The biggest problem I see with relying on chemical filtration exclusively is the cost. You have to keep replacing it, and you have to regularly test your water to know when to replace it. As fish grow, you're going to need to use more of it or replace it more frequently. Using the nitrogen cycle to keep a tank healthy is totally free once the bacteria colony is established, and it adjusts itself as the fish grow. There is no ongoing cost related to maintaining the colony, unless you use some type of biological support media that breaks down over time.
  12. Dadio Well Known Member Member

    Bravo, well said I must say!
  13. wisecrackerz Well Known Member Member

    Thank you.
  14. ricmcc Well Known Member Member

    I do believe that my tanks were not over stocked, although that does become a question. If all ammonia is immediately removed, one would then think in terms of fish behavior and aggression rather than poor water, or to paraphrase you, with respect, a plec will not fit in a tank that he is larger than:)
    One of the products hat I use is Purigen, and I vastly over-filter with it( I am now speaking of other tanks). It needs, in my use of it, recharging about every six months, a simple 2 day process. It does change colour as it loses efficiency, but as always, testing the water is the better gauge.
    Chemi-Pure lacks this advantage, which is why I would only suggest it for an emergency, or 'band-aide' solution.
    The most obvious problem to me is that if , and it does, remove all ammonia, it thereby also kills, or rather staves to death, an existing bio-bed. Having kept fish for about 50 years, that kinda hurts:).

    I currently keep about 1,700 gallons of tank water, in divisions of 10g to 300g. I maintain bio-beds in almost all, if only to justify the expense of my filters (3 Fuval FX6 cost the same as 1 of the same x 3, it turns out:).
    However, I am 57, and therefore retired from my work with a generous pension plan (I did work 1 extra year just to them off:) ), and eluding work of any nature is now my main concern.
    Just for those insomniacs still reading:), I have kept a 135g tank of Malawi cichlids in this manner for about a year and a half, and still have to herd them up every four months to trade at my LFS: i.e., if reproduction is a guide, as I believe it to be, they seem to still be thriving in what has to be ( for Rift Lake cichlid reasons) an overstocked tank.

    Imagine, though, an 80 year old Mother of your's, and one who loves beauty-imagine giving that to her without also giving her a workload, and then ask yourself where does nitrite come from in the absence of ammonia? Answer, it will, but in very small portions, even smaller portions than you take from the chicken pie that has sat out for 3 days prior to her cooking it for you at of about 169 degrees F.:). temperature. Well, my Mom cooked like that, which is the main reason that I now enjoy cooking.:)
    And I do remain sorry for the verbiage, it is just that I do try to speak the Queen's English, although i do admit that which Liz it is I forget at times:)'
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2015
  15. Chris99 Well Known Member Member

    I think this is a very reasonable question. As alternatives become available we should be willing to at least consider there are viable solutions other than traditional methods. If elimination of nitrogenous wastes are the ultimate goal then each person must decide what is ultimately the "best" solution for their circumstances. There will always be some level of physical labor required as well as financial costs in any method.

    The main concern with these new methods is the lack of information, potential problems, and long term consequences. Your experiment is a good starting point in eliminating these unknowns.
  16. ricmcc Well Known Member Member

    No sweat; invade Canada, we have lots:) Brutus et rick
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2015
  17. ricmcc Well Known Member Member

    I like this question, even if allows for innovation, something that I hate:).
    But rather than just my being silly, this question asks why our bible told us of the balanced aquarium, and that old water was good, older better, and that W/Cs would kill fish? (Innes, Axelrod).
    A better question is maybe is just how did those guys succeed? I would never recommend their methods, but as theirs' were completely opposed to ours, perhaps we should not overlook the possibility that in a hundred years they, too, will look upon likewise.
  18. Et tu Valued Member Member

    My Grandfather was one of the early fish keepers and he would be shocked at the way we over stock our tanks. Way back in those days a twenty gallon was maxed out with 5 neon tetras.so perhaps the smaller bio loads was how they succeeded.
  19. SnyperTodd Valued Member Member

    I wholeheartedly agree; This is why I maintain that there are no hard-and-fast rules in fishkeeping. The hobby is always evolving, new products and methods are constantly being introduced. Farmed fish themselves change generation to generation. We can give advice here based on our experience, but much of fishkeeping is trial and error, and what is an error for one person won't necessarily be an error for the next. When I joined this forum I was surprised to regularly see opinions being passed off as facts to new fishkeepers- opinions that ran counter to my own formed from 20+ years of experience. In this hobby, things just aren't that clear-cut. To me, thatt's one of the things that makes it so much fun.
  20. CindiL Fishlore Legend Member

    If you think about it, a well planted tank is doing the same thing without chemicals. I am of course thinking of Dianne Walstad and her book Ecology of the Planted Tank. The whole point of that is no biological process is needed because if there are enough plants all ammonia will get consumed. What little makes it through the natural nitrogen cycle in the tank on gravel and decorations is also consumed so there are never any nitrates either. I guess thats a steep learning curve though in and of itself.

    I have been trying so hard to get to a point of equilibrium with plants. Not really the Walstad method per se as I do have filters with foam and ceramic media. My nitrates are rising by about .5 a day so I'm not quite there yet.

    I guess your point is that by using chemipure or something similar one would never have to learn of the nitrogen cycle. There is the issue about medication that wouldn't work well. If its purely chemical my guess is that it would have to be pulled out during rounds of medication which wouldn't go well for the inhabitants.

    It would be helpful to know how much natural BB estabished in the two experimental tanks you setup by removing the chemicals and fish, adding in 1.0 of ammonia and seeing what happens with it.......

    Thought provoking and I'm never against easier methods but I can't help think that to some degree a small cycle is formed no matter what as this is just what happens when you introduce ammonia and bacteria. Also, there are limits as to what the chemicals can remove or how much. The natural cycle does not have those limits if given enough time and enough space to live on.

    I really like products like TSS because they make cycling easy and in a way at least teach the new aquarium owner that such a thing as beneficial bacteria exist.